Photographing Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

By Brett Kiger on February 13th, 2012   |    Posted in:  Disney Photo Tips   |    3 Comments

Car jumping through fire at Lights, Motors, Action

Burning rubber, Disney style!

Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is an extremely engaging and thrilling attraction on it’s own, but it presents a few unique challenges to the Disney photography enthusiast. While this show is certainly fun to watch, I find it even more fun to photograph. I hope the tips below will help encourage you to shoot this show and hopefully you will learn something new! Without further adieu, let’s get right in to the tips…

1. Location, Location, Location!

This might sound like an obvious one, but I think this is pretty important for this show. While the action takes place all over the “set,” the sequences mainly move from left to right as facing the set (the staging area for the cars is stage right). I suggest sitting on the right side of the bleachers (as you face the set) about half way up.

This position will allow you to spend more time photographing the fronts of cars coming at you which usually makes for a more engaging picture. In addition, the stuntmen falling and catching on fire also happen on the right side, as viewed from the stands, so you will get a cleaner shot of them too!

2. Use a long lens.

The set is deceptively large, and the seating area is also huge. You want to to fill your frame as much as possible, so there is no other way to do this than to use a zoom lens. Nothing exotic is required, but I would say you want to use something that goes to at least 200mm. I use a 70-200mm on my Canon 7D (1.6x crop factor) and find it just about perfect. If you shoot a full frame body, you might want something that goes to 11, oh um, sorry, I mean 300mm (excuse the poorly placed Spinal Tap reference).

Lights, Motors, Action at Disney Hollywood Studios

3. Slow down your shutter speed.

Now, since we are shooting moving cars, it should come as no surprise that some basic motorsports photography tips also apply. One of the biggest tricks used by professional motorsports photographers is to use a slow shutter speed and pan with the subject. If you don’t slow down the shutter, the wheels will be stopped and you will also have a sharp background which doesn’t make for a dynamic image. Your goal is to have a sharp vehicle and a nicely blurred background. I could write an entire article on these techniques, but I suggest you get comfortable in your favorite chair, Google “motorsports photography techniques,” and spend as much time as you would like learning about the art of panning.

I will, however, highlight a few key areas. For this show, you want to place a focus point on your subject and do your best to keep that point on your subject as they move around the set. The distance from the subject to the camera will be constantly varying, so the continuous focus mode will help to ensure proper focus.

As for shutter speed, I would play with values ranging from 1/60 to 1/250. The slower the shutter speed, the more blurred the background will be. This is desirable because your image will convey the motion and speed of the cars. Unfortunately, it is also more difficult to capture the subject sharply and your keeper rate will likely go down as a result (use rapid frame advance so you have plenty to images to choose form when you get home!). Fortunately, the show is pretty long, so you will have a few opportunities to experiment. The panned images used in this article were shot at 1/60.

Lights, Motors, Action at Disney Hollywood Studios

Lights, Motors, Action at Disney Hollywood Studios

I suggest finding a local race track, or even use your neighborhood streets to practice before your trip. You will be more prepared, and who knows, you might find that you really like motorsports photography! These techniques can also be applied elsewhere in the parks to convey motion, think Big Thunder Mountain, Dumbo, monorails, etc…

4. Speed up your shutter speed.

Wait a minute, didn’t I just ramble on about how important it is to use a slow shutter speed, and now I’m telling you to use a fast shutter speed? Well, keep in mind this is also a stunt show. In particular, there are two stunts that just beg to be photographed.

First up is the big fall from the top of the backdrop buildings. Here, I find a sharp image to be more appealing to see the details of the stuntman and background. The very nature of a person falling head first adds plenty of excitement to an image. Next up is when one of the motorcycle riders slides through burning fuel and bursts in to flames. Here, you will want to capture all of the subtle details in the fire.

Lights, Motors, Action at Disney Hollywood Studios

Lights, Motors, Action at Disney Hollywood Studios

So, here’s a tip for using both fast and slow shutter speeds at the same time. First, set your camera to shutter priority and dial in the panning shutter speed you find that works best for you. Second, set your camera to aperture priority mode and set it to wide open (smallest possible number). By setting the lens wide open, you will be getting the fastest shutter speed possible. Simply toggle back and forth between these modes depending on which one you need.

This location is usually very bright, so you will likely be using your lowest ISO setting, which leads me to my next tip…

5. Keep your highlights in check.

Remember, this area is often in direct sunlight and you are shooting highly reflective cars. Don’t forget to check you histogram or highlight warning for overexposure. I usually shoot this show with the camera set to -1/3 to -2/3 exposure compensation. This has a side effect of saturating colors, which is actually nice because the background facades are filled with nice, rich color. Oh, and the fire during the finale is also quite bright! Another great segue…

6. Learn the show order.

That fire finale I just mentioned happens really fast! Much like a fireworks show, this one pays off if you have seen it before and can react quickly to what is happening. You will be juggling camera settings a bit, so you will be more relaxed if you know if you should be on your fast or slow shutter setting. Maybe watch the show once without trying to photograph it, or maybe even check it out on YouTube before your trip (although this does spoil some of the fun if you’ve never seen it before in person).

As with anything related to photography, these are only guidelines, and even if they were rules, rules are made to be broken. I hope these tips will help someone who has not photographed this show before or struggled with it in the past. Feel free to mix it up though, and try some different techniques and locations in the stands. When reviewing my shots, for example, I realized I don’t have many that include the crew to show the context of a movie set. I’ll have to change that during my next visit…

I look forward to seeing some great images of this show from the readers in the Disney Photography Blog Flickr pool!


  1. Larry   |   Feb 13, 2012

    Thanks Brett! Great tips and a good reminder about the slow shutter speed and panning…

  2. dogstardaddy   |   Feb 13, 2012

    Great article Brett! Thanks!



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